Self Just Can’t Seem to Quit This Book

Self returns to the slowest read in forever. This morning, she’s on p. 106 (about halfway), Robert Falcon Scott’s meditation on the futility of his quest to the South Pole (He already knows Amundsen, with his “one hundred dogs,” has beaten him, but the Englishman in him tells him to stiff-upper-lip it and continue):

  • It’s to be regretted that the best part of me, the part that recognises both the horror and beauty of destiny, remains submerged. When things go wrong — and God knows they do that with unfailing regularity — while outwardly I exhibit all the signs of a man in the grip of a bad temper, underneath I’m actually going through a healing, if melancholy, acceptance of forces beyond my control. However, the process is so debilitating that I’m forced to assume a reserve I’m far from feeling, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to function.

Captain Robert Falcon (Con) Scott, Leader of the Expedition

Inactivity always leads to introspection, and I’m simply no good when I’m not doing something. It will be splendid to fall asleep utterly exhausted from a long, strenuous slog.

The Birthday Boys, p. 91

Self is surprised that Bainbridge chose to make Scott only the third chapter (aren’t there two more to go?). She thought that Bainbridge would give the leader of the expedition, Scott, the place of honor, usually the end. Apparently not!

Dr. Edward Wilson, July 1910

Self recognizes this name. His and Robert Falcon Scott are the two names she remembers most clearly from her earlier reading. And she likes him. Ugh, she hates getting attached to doomed characters.

The second chapter of The Birthday Boys is Wilson’s:

  • Lord knows what I should do if the crow’s nest wasn’t available to me. Quite apart from its being the best vantage point from which to work, it also enables me to be solitary. Constant companionship exhausts me, and but for my lonely hours up against the sky I would find the boisterous evenings unbearable. I’m something of a dull fish, and although I’m flattered when one or other of the chaps come to me with their grievances — and sooner or later they all do — I’m much afraid that my reputation for patience and impartiality stems more from lassitude than involvement. Better to say nothing than to condemn, and to laugh with than to criticise, and so much happier.

It is to Wilson that Bainbridge grants a vision. It’s just one sentence.

  • I was seeing the mission-room in my mind’s eye, those rows of shaven heads illuminated in a slant of sunlight writhing with dust, when by some trick of the early light in the sky above me, the sea below broke into a thousand glittering fragments, and in that heavenly dazzle I clearly saw a creature, half man, half bird, soaring above the waves.

Bainbridge’s writing is so beautiful: so elegant and exact.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Birthday Boys, p. 49

Beryl Bainbridge chooses to tell the story of Robert Falcon Scott’s doomed expedition to the south pole in first person, and places each chapter in the mind of a different crew member. Self thinks/remembers that the whole lot die, so this is quite a depressing book to be reading right now. She read it for the first time about 20 years ago, and it’s only now that bits and pieces are coming back to her. Such as: the farewell letters written by the men as they were dying on the ice. The diary of Robert Falcon Scott.

Chapter One (June 1910) is narrated by Petty Officer Edgar (Taff) Evans, whose voice has a certain air of stoicism. Evans describes things like how low the boat, the Terra Nova, sits in the water. How the boat was procured (on the cheap). How the expedition received extravagant attention from the press (Oh the irony). How the voyage is projected to take three years. How the Petty Officer knows not all the crew will make it.

The general impression left by Chapter One is that Scott cut corners. Most of Chapter One is engaged with Scott’s fundraising efforts, and how the amount raised didn’t seem to be quite enough. All these details will no doubt have tragic consequences. Scott was charismatic, but he was talking through his arse, the boat was pretty rickety, etc He’d already made one expedition to the Antarctic, which only made him more ambitious.

Chapter Two is related by Dr. Edward (Uncle Bill) Wilson, who is given to detached observation. For example:

  • The scenery was magnificent; abrupt precipices, wooded hills and crags, tumbling waters and a paradise of mosses, ferns and pink belladonna lilies. One moment the air was polluted with the odour of the black til (Oreodaphne foetens), so named because of its awful smell, and the next filled with the delicious scent of the beautiful lilly of the valley tree (Clethra arborea).

Quote of the Day: Petty Officer Edgar (Taff) Evans, June 1910

There’s a trick to holding attention, to keeping interest at full pitch, and I learnt it as a boy from Idris Williams, the preacher in the chapel at the bottom of Glamorgan Street. It’s a matter of knowing which way the wind blows and of trimming sails accordingly. All the same, I’ve never found it necessary to alter my description of the cold, or of the ice flowers that bloomed in winter along the edges of the sea.

The Birthday Boys, p. 8

Farewell, The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors; Hello, The Birthday Boys

Opening Sentence:

  • We left West India Dock for Cardiff on the first day of June.

A Boucherie Chevaline: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Pt 2

  • The golden horse’s head outside the Boucherie Chevaline where the carcasses hung yellow gold and red in the open window, and the green-painted cooperative where they bought their wine; good wine and cheap.

How To Stoke the Fire: More from Rosario Ferré

This summer self made a stab at re-reading the late Rosario Ferré’s story collection The Youngest Doll. She remembers being stunned by the title story, the first time she read it. The intervening years have not changed her response to the story, not one bit. She urges everyone interested in feminist literature/island literature/Puerto Rican literature or just plain literature to read it.

In addition, self has been slowly re-reading Ferré’s essay on her writing process, The Writer’s Kitchen. The essay was published decades ago, in the Journal of Feminist Studies, but every time self re-reads it, the words are as fresh as the first time.

20190928_205621

HOW TO STOKE A FIRE

I would now like to speak a bit about that mysterious combustible element that feeds all literature — imagination. This topic interests me because I often discover, among the general public, a curious skepticism toward the existence of the imagination and because I find that both laypeople and professionals in the literary community tend to overemphasize the biographical details of authors’ lives. One of the questions most often asked of me, by strangers as well as friends, is how I was able to write about Isabel la Negra, a famous whore of Ponce, my hometown, without ever having met her. The question always surprises me because it bespeaks a fairly generalized difficulty in establishing boundaries between imagined reality and lived reality, or perhaps the difficulty lies only in understanding the intrinsic nature of literature. It would never have occurred to me to ask Mary Shelley, for example,  if on her walks along the bucolic paths surrounding Lake Geneva, she had ever run into a living-dead monster about ten feet tall.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Breaking Down Self’s 2019 Reading List

Most of Self’s favorite reads so far 2019 were novels (six out of 10).

Three of her favorite reads of 2019 were memoirs written by doctors.

One of her favorite reads of 2019 was a book about the environment.

Five of her six favorite novels were written by women.

This year she attended the Fowey Festival of the Arts (in honor of Daphne du Maurier) and during the festival, she bought a copy of Jane Austen‘s Northanger Abbey from Bookends of Fowey. She loved loved loved it.

None of the books she read in January and April ended up making much of an impression.

One of her six favorite novels has been optioned for the movies by Lawrence Kasdan.

One of her six favorite novels won a prize.

One of her six favorite novels is a finalist for a Kirkus Prize.

Her 2019 Goodreads Reading Challenge was to read 34 books.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Reading on the Fourth of July, 2019

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HOME: 4 July 2019

Today self finished Stephen Westaby’s Open Heart and began a re-read of the Rosario Ferré collection The Youngest Doll (University of Nebraska Press, 1991). Some pieces are memoir, some are nonfiction, some are magical realist.

  • Being a writer . . . one has to learn to live by letting go, by renouncing the reaching of this or that shore, to let oneself become the meeting place of both . . . In a way, all writing is a translation, a struggle to interpret the meaning of life, and in this sense the translator can be said to be a shaman, a person said to be deciphering conflicting human texts, searching for the final unity of meaning in speech.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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